Can fish get sore scales? Without a doubt, says the Federal Ethics Commission for Non-Human Biotechnology domaine (CENH), in a report released this week. It found that there is "no reason to conclude that fish are insensitive" to pain.
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Until the 1980s it was commonly believed that fish behaved more or less like machines and only reacted to their environments reflexively, but more and more studies have been proving otherwise, with this recent report confirming findings.
Human pain receptors inform our brains of imminent danger — external stimuli (e.g. burning, pressure, etc.) change into an electrical nerve signal which travels to the brain via certain nerve fibers. These nerve fibers are absent in fish, which led experts to conclude they could not feel pain, says Swiss daily Le Temps.
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"The evolutionary origin of pain remains a mystery. It is not impossible that the fish — or any other species — experience it differently than other mammals," says Jean-Marc Neuhaus, biologist at the University of Neuchâtel and member of CENH.
Because of these findings, the commission said that fish must be respected morally and several recommendations were issued: For instance the suffering of caught fish, who often die from asphyxiation and after multiple injuries, should be limited, and each species' needs should be taken into account. The committee also hopes that angling will become subject to obtaining a competency certificate.
More surprising still was the recommendation that the use of fish for wellness and leisure be banned. It's not just farmers and amateur fishermen in the crosshairs of the CENH — fish pedicure lovers had better watch out too.